For the first time in as long as I can recall my alarm sounds; initially soft though working its way up to a volume unpleasant enough to wake me from my precious sleep. I look at the time and realise it’s an ungodly 3:00am. I’d hazard a guess to say I’m the only living thing awake at this moment in time. As I transition from a state of dysfunction – drunk off sleep and unaware of my surroundings – to a state of semi-consciousness I remember that late last night we had made tentative plans to get up early and ride to The Tip for sunrise: just shy of 40 kilometres, though a substantial 2 hour ride according to Google Maps.
The grand plan seemed feasible last night, though at the moment I can’t possibly fathom the idea of a 2 hour ride on unknown roads in the pitch black of the early morning. I switch my alarm off and go back to sleep, waking 3 hours later to an overcast sky. Lucky we didn’t make the dash as we’d have seen very little in the way of a sunrise!
The money shot.
We cook up a hot breakfast of eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes and baby spinach on toast – a real treat compared to our usual peanut butter sandwich – and then I make a few phone calls. The first patch of reception in what feels like weeks brings with it the sweet sound of consecutive messages pinging my phone. It’s strange to use my phone again, though I make the most of it before we pack the motorbikes up and get back on the road.
We ride from Seisia into Bamaga, where Brogan has his heart set on finding a scattering of WWII aircraft wrecks hidden in the dense surrounding bushland. We search for hours, with no real directions only a vague idea of where they should be. We scan the perimeter of the dusty Northern Peninsula Airport, exploring every side road we come across. The only evidence of human existence we can find is a bunch of mutilated, ancient oil drums which look to have fallen from an aircraft judging by their distorted casings.
We head back into town to ask about the wrecks at the BP service station. They point us in the direction from which we just came. Confused, we head back out and continue past the oil drums when not long after we come across the first wreck. The crash site is indescribably eerie. Large pieces of aircraft that were once soaring high in the sky are now strewn upon the land; wrapped around trees and laying still, perfectly preserving the terror and struggle that undoubtedly accompanied such a serious period during Australia’s grizzly past. Still identifiable are the cockpit and the tail sections, which look to have torn apart on impact. Other aluminium parts of the aircraft were obviously subject to extreme temperatures of a fire spurred on by high-octane fuel. They’ve been melted into solid clumps which we find scattered around the area.
We jump back on the motorbikes and recall rough directions to another crash site only a few kilometres from the first. The second wreck is much the same, though more of the aircraft can be distinguished from the once-exquisite feat of aerial engineering. Its huge radial engine is sitting proud, next to the contort shell it once powered. I can only imagine the horror the crew experienced as they dropped from the sky in their damaged plane. We examine the wreck in a respectful silence, each of us feeling very lucky to be living in a time where we have more freedom and choice to do the things we love than ever before, and brought up in a time free from World Wars and conscription.
We ride back towards Bamaga, stopping in at the BP to fill up for the last time before we reach The Tip of Australia. Fuel is a rather rich $2.55/L, and I find myself thinking about all the times whilst down south I’ve refrained from filling my tank when the price is hovering around the $1.80/L mark. I fill the tank with 7.85 litres which comes to a cool $20.02, and then call home one last time before we ride north into no-man’s land. Moments before we start our motorbikes up to leave a Police car pulls in behind us. The officer asks us a few questions, before asking to search our bags for any alcohol we might be carrying. Bamaga and the surrounding areas are ‘dry-zones’, which means you cannot bring alcohol in, or purchase takeaways from anywhere in town. Apparently the only place you’re allowed to drink is within the confines of the pub.
My tyres hit the hard-packed clay road with momentous force, and I find myself buzzing with an unshakable enthusiasm. The all-evasive Tip of Australia is now within our reach; a mere 30 kilometres from where we’re setting off, and judging by the perfectly groomed, burnt orange road as far as the eye can see it’s going to be a memorable afternoon.
I open the throttle up and make the most of the enormous sweeping bends that are linking up in front of me. I use the weight to carry momentum through each corner, and then the short gearing to sprint to the next; a clay rooster tail spitting from the rear tyre and high into the air as it breaks-free from its shackles. The road is fast, flowing, and it follows the length of a small mountain range which affords us glimpses of the eastern tropical marvel.
We reach a junction with a sign pointing right to Punsand Bay – next to a sign displaying the prohibition of riding in the tray of Utes. I guess the temptation is real up here, without police presence keeping wild behaviour in-check.
The junction is riddled with towering Mango trees, Palms that span the width of a truck, and the most mesmerizing colours you could possibly imagine; a psychedelic combination of burnt reds and oranges, thrown in with fluorescent yellows and greens that simply don’t stand a chance of blending in together. Instead they divide the landscape in stark contrast to the magnificent blue sky which sweeps over the top of us and vanishes beyond the blistering horizon.
We don’t know what to expect upon arrival at Punsand Bay aside from immense natural beauty, though once we park the motorbikes and explore on foot we are greeted by a lovely lady who runs the resort at this infamous holiday destination. She’s in her mid-fifties and is beaming with health and wellbeing; two things that seem to be synonymous with the laidback life up here. She explains that it’s $12/night to stay here, and offers us the use of the communal camp kitchen area to roll out our swags, which has a cover over the top of a smooth cement slab. We tell her that we’re on the way to The Tip, though we’ll likely stay here on the way back through.
She gives us directions for a shortcut that runs along the coast, and which will take us past the end of the Telegraph Line before joining back up with the main road to the northernmost point of the continent. “Any sand on those roads?” I knowingly ask, to which she responds with “They’re hardly roads. Haven’t seen much use, though they aren’t too sandy from memory.”
Always up for a challenge, we turn our motorbikes around and follow her directions. Immediately the beautiful compact road gives in to a torturous mix of sand and that incredibly fine, powdery black soil. I can hear Brogan struggling up ahead. The sound of spinning tyre and rev-limiter muffled by a wall of sand it’s kicking up should really be enough to deter me, though I push on. Rah offers to get off, though I kindly decline her offer just before we strike a tree root which catches on the front rim and stops us in our tracks. With nowhere to go Rah falls off to the side, while I try to keep the motorbike from tipping to the right. I feel the ‘bars slip from my sweaty grasp and watch in horror as the bar end lands directly on my big toe. I let out a cry and struggle to rip my toe out from beneath the heavy motorbike. Rah managed to land head first, and is looking dangerously dazed behind her visor.
It takes all three of us to lift The DR up again, and then I spend the next 5 minutes trying to turn it around without becoming entrenched in the soft sand. I’m terrified to pull my boot off. My toe is throbbing and burning as blood makes its way down there. With each sharp, stabbing pain I see the bar digging into my toe replay in my mind. I just hope it isn’t broken! This afternoon sure has become memorable, though not in any way I had envisaged it to be earlier today. We decide to pull the plug on the afternoon dash to The Tip, and head back to Punsand Bay instead.
Not long after paying for a night have we got ice cold ciders in-hand. It helps ease the pain as I hobble around setting up camp and heating some soup for dinner. Darkness closes in before we have a chance to explore our surroundings, though from what we’ve seen so far we could use a couple of nights here to unwind. We chat, sip tea and catch up on some writing before calling it a night. Fingers crossed for clear skies tomorrow morning, which would make for a spectacular sunrise the northernmost point!